In the Group Messaging Wars at the beginning of this year, one of the standout contenders was Kik.
Through aggressive use of the contact book, the app had grabbed about 2 million users three weeks when it launched in October of last year (which was a very good number at the time). Investors like RRE Ventures, Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures piled in with $8 million as the hype around rivals like Beluga and GroupMe grew.
Now at the end of 2011, it’s a slightly different story. Beluga was acquired by Facebook and became Messenger while GroupMe was picked up by Skype. Apple launched its own fast messaging client too with iMessage.
The space has consolidated significantly, so what’s an $8 million-backed startup to do?
Well, Kik has an interesting card up its sleeve. It’s launching viral channels for third-party mobile applications.
When users share activity from an app, they can pass it through Kik Messenger on Android or iOS to their friends and ask them to download the app. Kik doesn’t have Facebook’s scale, but it’s not that small either. It has about 6 million registered users and sends 500 million messages per month. Implementing the API involves adding five lines of code.
Kik is also creating an app discovery wall, which lets users find apps that are connected to Kik. Some early partners include DrinkOwl, which lets users find cheap drinks in their city, and FileKicker, which lets users share files with friends.
Sharing apps through messages or SMS could be brilliantly viral for third-party developers and a terrible user experience if abused. That’s probably why Apple hasn’t enabled it or made it frictionless through iMessage. Facebook allows direct requests between users to join apps, but it sends them through the ‘Notifications’ channel, which is weaker than direct ‘Messages.’
But if Kik’s implementation fuels growth for it and its network of developers, perhaps it could convince other players to follow suit.
Kik’s developer evangelist Yuriy Blokhin said the company decided to go this route as a way to enhance app discovery and engagement.
“We have a reputation for being very fast, reliable and elegant from a user experience perspective,” he said. “But users were also asking for more features like the ability to share videos and locations. Sharing apps was another big request.”